Competence > likability

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I personally found this interesting.

We always talk about wanting bosses who are “empathetic” or “personable,” and that’s largely true. No one wants to work for an asshole or a jerk, or at least I’d hope most humans would not want to.

At the same time, we talk a lot about “likability” around colleagues too. We know there’s a lot of power to having friends at work, for example. We know gratitude is important. These things all matter. It’s sometimes hard to assign science to those concepts, i.e. put them on a document executives will read, but they definitely matter and I think we all know that.

However, let’s throw a wrinkle in this ointment for a second.

Let’s say you are on a project with a lot of stress. The deliverables are tight. The deadlines are tight. It’s a miserable mess in some ways. A race to the finish line.

Would you rather have a competent co-worker or a likable one?

This is obviously a matter of preference, and based on some of Google’s research around psychological safety, you might say “likable co-worker.”

But in reality, you probably want a competent co-worker.

Here’s some new research, and here’s the essential part:

“If you’re building a baseball team, you don’t care whether a player is nice — you want to know if he can hit the ball,” Pfeffer says. “If you’re looking for a surgeon, you don’t ask about personality.”

I disagree with that quote a tiny bit. I think “beside manner” is important for doctors. When doctors have no social skill, that’s not great either. But overall, yes. Who cares if a 1B in baseball is a nice dude if he strikes out all the time? You’re paying him to hit. Not to be nice.

Little bit of nuance here, because I think we tend to over-value competence in areas like hiring, then get it all wrong on competence in other areas like, well, day-to-day life.

Work is supposedly about productivity. In reality, it’s largely about control and hopefully most of us know this. But since the illusion is that it’s about productivity, we can roll with that for a few seconds here.

Productivity can come from being likable, sure. Bosses with good social skills and good personalities likely drive more results. You can definitely find studies to that end, including on this blog. But productivity MORE often comes from competence. If you know your shit, chances are you get your shit done. If you know how to make shit like you, well, now you’re just bonded with feces. See the difference?

When your ass is on the line, competence seems to matter way more. Concur?

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